The business: How funeral homes and morticians navigate COVID-19

Gregory Hoover

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting millions of jobs worldwide, we might often forget about the individuals who help families in the worst-case scenario, death.

As we all know, anyone and everyone in the health care industry, from training nurses to veteran doctors, are working tirelessly to help those with COVID-19. Unfortunately, when the battle with the virus is lost, another unsung hero enters the picture. Gregory Hoover is a fifth-generation mortician with 20 plus years of experience. Hoover resides in Hershey, PA, and co-owns and operates Hoover Funeral Home and Crematory in Dauphin County. With 601 current cases and already 25 deaths in Dauphin County, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Hoover has been affected heavily by the virus in terms of business operations.

“When I was still in Pittsburgh (where Hoover attended school), something like this wasn’t even mentioned or taught to us. I didn’t have worldwide pandemic training,” said Hoover.

With Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfs stay at home order, in addition to public gatherings sizes limited to few people, normal funeral operations have drastically changed. Viewings, private and public gatherings, church services, and graveside ceremonies are limited to ten or fewer people. It is to the point where someone can’t hug their grandmother after her husband’s death due to the fear of transmitting a virus.

“It’s horrible. People are losing people they love to this virus, and they are talking to a man in a suit and mask telling them they can’t have all their friends and family there to support them. People need more support more than ever in these instances, and they will never be able to obtain it.” Hoover said.

Like many healthcare professionals, Hoover and everyone else who works at Hoover Funeral Home are taking as many precautions as possible to stay safe when exposed to the virus. So far, they have handled more than a dozen confirmed COVID-19 deaths, according to Hoover. Even deaths that do not relate to COVID-19, the same precautions are still made. Due to the new contact of the individual deceased and their family. Hoover fears about bringing the virus home to his family anytime he goes to work.

“He’s stressed, and he’s got every right to be. Going out and being around confirmed cases, being called at four in the morning to take someone from a hospital or nursing home. Then coming home, I couldn’t imagine.” Said Gregory Hoover’s wife, Sheila Hoover.

History has its share of diseases and outbreaks, from the bubonic plague, the Spanish flu, HIV/AIDS, and now COVID-19. The Hoover Funeral Home has dealt with many of these outbreaks.

The Hoover family has been in Hershey, PA, since 1950 and in Linglestown, PA, since 1971. However, their roots in funeral service go back to the 1890s. It all started when Lawrence Wellington Hoover, a carpenter by trade, purchased the funeral assets of Peter W. Bishop in Berrysburg, located in Upper Dauphin County. He operated the funeral establishment until his unexpected death in 1907.

“I remember in the late 1980s and early 90s when the whole HIV thing was going on. My dad was so precautious of everything he did when handling the deceased person. Even though it was an STD, he was and still is a germaphobe. However, what he taught me back then before I even started formal training is what I am doing now,” said Hoover.

All over the world, morticians and funeral directors are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those located in urban areas such as cities and rural areas with a high percentage of high-risk individuals. Hershey and Dauphin County is a prime example, with 17 percent of its population being 65 or older, according to the United States Census Beuro.

Hoover expects more cases and even deaths in the near future, but still intends to carry on with all precautions and do what he can to help the overall effort of the fight against COVID-19.

“All I need to say is for people to just be safe and don’t do anything stupid, because the less I have to do my job, the better it is, for everyone,” said Hoover.